If anyone knows me, they know one of my pet peeves is historical inaccuracy - especially ones that are widely touted to be true. So the sheer concept of millions of children singing the praises of a man who falsely discovered a land he never landed on and killing thousands of people, makes things even more annoying. After doing some research on Christopher Columbus, his exploits, and the inaccuracy of "In 1492" with help of several sources (Laurence Bergreen's biography, Columbus: The Four Voyagesand Columbus's own journal entries), I decided to compile 5 things that you were never told about this Spanish conquistador. Especially, as to why our celebration of this man is deeply tragic and misplaced.
1.Christopher Columbus never actually set foot on America – ever.
... Christopher Columbus never set his anchor in America, but in fact, present-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Upon arriving, Christopher Columbus was met by the Taino and Arawak’s who were friendly people. So much so, that they assisted Columbus in rescuing his cargo and men when they got shipwrecked on the side of the shore. Columbus noting their generosity, took it as a sign of how advantageous it would be in exploiting them.
“As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts.” – Christopher Columbus
2. Christopher Columbus was actually going the WRONG way.
Not common knowledge: Christopher Columbus actually had a difficulty in funding his first voyage to “India” because of advisers to three of Europe’s leading Monarchs believed his calculations were incorrect. They were right.
Christopher Columbus completely underestimated the length of the ocean and in 1492, Columbus didn't land in India, but in fact, in the Bahamas.
3. Christopher Columbus raped, pillaged, and exploited Native Americans when he arrived.
Sources share that Christopher Columbus gave women to his soldiers as gifts and would cut off the limbs of Native Americans who did not do his bidding.
Columbus ordered every Indian over 14 to give a large quantity of gold to the Spanish, on pain of death. Those in regions without much gold were allowed to give cotton instead. Participants in this system were given a "stamped copper or brass token to wear around their necks in what became a symbol of intolerable shame." (Bergreen, 203)
According to Cuneo, "Columbus ordered 1,500 men and women seized, letting 400 go and condemning 500 to be sent to Spain, and another 600 to be enslaved by Spanish men remaining on the island. About 200 of the 500 sent to Spain died on the voyage, and was thrown by the Spanish into the Atlantic."(Bergreen, 196-197)
4. Columbus was actually arrested for his mismanagement of the New World - Hispaniola.
After a multiple complaints against Columbus about his ill management of Hispaniola, Spain arrested Columbus in 1500 and brought him back to Spain in chains. Stripped of his position, Columbus was pardoned by the King, who then subsidized a fourth voyage to "explore" some more.
5. Lastly, Christopher Columbus was not the first traveler to America.
Archeological studies are beginning to speculate that the Native Americans living in the New World likely had encounters with other groups across the Atlantic - predating Christopher Columbus's arrival in 1492. Particularly, with Africans in the Olmec civilization of Mexico .
Statue heads (like the one above) and pyramids found in the Olmec civilization serve as clues to the possibility of trade relationships between the Olmec people and those from Africa. Why? The physical features of those heads and pyramids bear African features and craftsmanship (large lips, and wide noses) not only native american ones, making these claims difficult to refute about their influence.
Its important to note: the Olmec civilization serves as the mother culture of Mexico. Of this, Michael Coe, a leading American historian on Mexico, has written that, "there is not the slightest doubt that all later civilizations in [Mexico and Central America], rest ultimately on an Olmec base." Thusly, allowing us to arrive to the conclusion that African influences in the New World predate that of Spain and Columbus, and is one that still permeates through Mexican culture today.
We’ve all been touting a lie. Christopher Columbus was not the man we‘ve been told he was. The truth is Columbus raped, killed, and pillaged the new world, opened the floodgates of colonialism, and indirectly served as the forefather of the Atlantic slave trade in America. None of which deserve celebration.
So join me in getting rid of this lie. Band with me and sign the petition to abolish Columbus Day in return for Indigenous People Day. Eight Cities have already done so, and it's time make sure we do the same. Its clear that after reading just five misconceptions about him, Columbus is no hero, and it's time we stop celebrating him as such.
I am a man on a mission! As a writer, I expound on Black culture from a millennial perspective and unite and empower marginalized communities through journalism and social media. A Master’s in African American Studies, I’m also the creator of The Corner, a one-hour student run weekly radio at Temple University. Follow me on Twitter: @Tyreebp.